Think you know cryptocurrency? You’re probably wrong. Many people assume crypto will seamlessly replace financial institutions, eradicating big banks’ seemingly constant misconduct. Others believe crypto will be a surefire money-making solution, only to come out broke, devastated, and purporting that “cryptocurrency is a scam” for no reason other than their misunderstanding of the market.
I used to wonder where these gross misconceptions were coming from. Who was spewing out these lies about crypto either being our savior or our tormentor?
Then I turned on the TV.
It’s an inspiring reflection of socioeconomic progress that cryptocurrency is infiltrating pop culture. But each time a show propagates misinformation relating to the basics of the crypto industry, this progress is tarnished. After all, the average viewer doesn’t know better: In an age where Facebook is a trusted source of news and information, our trust spills over into other media forms, like TV programs. People aren’t exactly fact-checking their favorite characters’ quips, so it’s easy to mistake the misinformation they deliver to be the truth.
So let’s do it right now. Here are some examples of the common crypto misconceptions that pop culture is propagating.
Myth #1: Bitcoin is a get-rich-quick financial solution
Reality: Bitcoin, along with all cryptocurrency, is an educated gamble at best. There’s no guarantee of a return on your investment, and if you don’t do your research, you can lose your money very quickly.
In other words, don’t be like Peter Griffin on Family Guy, who suggests bitcoin as a solution to his family’s financial trouble. Their problem is that they don’t know how to save, and exchanging their fiat cash for digital money is not going to change that. (Being like Peter is also generally just a bad idea.)
Myth #2: You can lose your digital money the same way you can lose your digital files
Reality: The beauty of cryptocurrency is that it exists on a blockchain. This means that when you buy coins, your purchase is recorded on a distributed ledger, which is a network of computers that keeps track of each coin’s ownership. So if you buy bitcoin using your laptop, for example, and you lose that laptop, your money will still be safe because the blockchain has your back. You can easily access your coins from another device.
This may surprise you if you saw the Big Bang Theory episode devoted entirely to searching for a laptop, which ostensibly held bitcoin that Sheldon and his friends purchased seven years earlier. Ultimately, they discover that the coins were downloaded onto a USB that is long gone, therefore insinuating that their bitcoin is long gone, as well. No matter how smart you may think Sheldon is, please do not trust him here. The blockchain, in reality, would have had Sheldon’s back, just as it has yours.
Myth #3: Bitcoin is easy and convenient to send, spend, and receive, just as fiat currency is
Reality: Bitcoin is a store of value. While originally intended to operate as a currency, it’s now widely accepted by crypto users to be more like gold. (This is a reality specific to bitcoin, however, and does not speak for the larger potential of cryptocurrency.) The reason bitcoin is unlikely to ever be used in the place of fiat payments is its slow transaction time and overall systemic complexity.
Leslie Knope’s befuddlement is therefore understandable in Parks and Recreation, when a web developer tells her to “PayPal [him] some bitcoins” for compensation. Aside from the impossibility of PayPal’s current platform transacting bitcoin, cryptocurrency transactions aren’t instantaneous… yet. They are massively secure, but they aren’t quick.
Myth #4: Criminals can easily hack into, steal, and transfer your digital money
Reality: A fundamental part of cryptocurrency is the safety it grants individuals through high-tech security protocols. Your money is secured in a digital wallet, which is secured by a private key, which is secured on a ledger device, which is protected by multiple passwords. Someone would need all of this to access your coins.
It would be impossible to have any idea of this safety, however, from the Billions episode where Axe “gives his trading partner” a ledger containing a million dollars in crypto. Aside from the fact that digital currency isn’t stored on a ledger—only private keys are—the trader doesn’t have what he needs in order to access the funds Axe is promising.
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Instead, here is the unglamorous truth not meant for the silver screen: Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are incredibly complex; it’s challenging even for insiders to navigate the terrain because it changes almost daily. However, one guarantee we can make is that neither will be going away. Cryptocurrency is an opportunity for wealth to transcend borders globally and open new monetary opportunities for those who need them the most.
It’s worth it to educate yourself on crypto, even if you build just a basic understanding. But really educate yourself, and don’t simply absorb what’s portrayed on TV. There are a lot of great resources out there, many of which aim to strike a common ground between jargonized language and layman’s terms.
How, and to what extent, you choose to embrace crypto is up to you. But whatever you do, keep in mind that fundamental research is key.
This article is part of Quartz Ideas, our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.